Ethics is often seen to be a luxury, or a nice-to-have; if deployed suitably publicly, it might enhance an organisation’s licence to operate, or give their brand a virtuous glow. The business case for ethics is, however, less cynical and more strategic: it’s not so much about brand personality than it is about risk.
This week I was struck by a piece in the FT arguing that “nasty leaders can be successful – if they don’t cross the line.’ The piece described some bullies who had seemingly produced excellent results, and who were not as unpopular as their behaviour might suggest. The article was careful not to suggest bullying as a strategy, of course, but the subtext is clear. If you get results, you can usually ‘get away’ with bad behaviour.
And we know this to be true, because we see it every day in our organisations, both public and private, and in politics as much as in the professions. But before you nod sadly and move swiftly on, please stop for a moment. You are being had. This is classic ‘end justifies the means’ morality, and we are so used to it as the prevailing ethical narrative that it seems irrefutable and unremarkable. Read More
I discovered how easy it is to get a book dedicated to you when I was about 13. All you have to do is gather your sisters, and gang up on his best mate at your grandfather’s funeral. And hey presto, The Secret of Annex 3, by Colin Dexter, for Elizabeth, Anna and Eve. Read More
The thing about all this flexible working is all those conference calls. How can you maintain your leadership sangfroid down a phoneline? In my Leadersmithing book, I say that meetings are free training. Conference calls are no different. Here are three cards you can play: Read More
Speech at TEDx, Durham, 11th March 2017 (watch here)
Hello. You’re probably wondering what’s with the pearls. Well, pearls have a dirty secret, and I’m here to tell you about it. It’s all about the pearls. So if you only remember one thing about this talk, remember the pearls.
Pearls are associated with such glamour, aren’t they? I inherited my first set, from a great grandmother who had been brought up at Hampton Court Palace. My second set were from Hatton Garden, given to me by my boyfriend when we worked next door at Deloitte Consulting. I bought my third set in Beijing when I took our Ashridge MBA students out there on a study trip.
But their glamour is hard-won. They have grit in their hearts. Their beauty and lustre is the result of a defence mechanism, designed to protect the oyster against a threatening irritant. I’m from Scotland, and in Scotland they don’t say ‘pearls’: they say ‘perils.’ And perils is exactly what the beauty of a pearl is bearing witness to – it owes its very existence to the oyster being in peril. Read More
Tonight I am delivering the Immortal Memory for the University of Edinburgh Business School. I may say something like this:
Robert Burns was born on this day in 1759, making today his 258th birthday. On this day, all over the world, people meet to celebrate the life of this man, a poet. He is on stamps and banknotes; his statue in Leith is wearing socks today; and his portrait stares at the First Minister in Bute House. But what can the average MBA student learn from the life of this man? Well, how not to succeed in business, for one.
On my last trip to London, I ended up quite by chance staying in the Farmers Club, overlooking the Thames in London. As I tucked myself up and reached into the bedside drawer for my Gideon bible, instead I found a book of poems about farming and the countryside entitled “Our Common Ground“